Debt Recovery

Coronavirus: Insolvency and Bankruptcy Changes

The financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to be felt by many businesses with debts remaining unpaid for longer and those that may have limped through until now starting to have liquidity or cashflow problems.

If you or your business are considering options for debt recovery from customers, note that during the pandemic period (24 March – 25 September 2020 or any longer period prescribed by Regulations*), the laws regarding insolvency and bankruptcy in Australia have been varied by Schedule 12 to the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 (Cth) such that when enforcing debts, the following have changed from the usual arrangements:

Bankruptcy Notices

The temporary measures to the operation of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) and its Regulations introduced by the federal government include:

  • the minimum amount of a judgment debt required for the issue of a Bankruptcy Notice has increased from $5,000 to $20,000; and
  • the recipient individual’s time to pay or respond has increased from 21 days to 6 months.

Once a Bankruptcy Notice expires without being met an “act of bankruptcy” will have occurred and, as usual, the creditor that issued it can commence court proceedings to seek a sequestration order to bankrupt the individual.

Other changes include those in relation to the moratorium period for those that submit a declaration of intention to present a debtors petition for their own bankruptcy

Creditor’s Statutory Demands

The temporary changes affecting the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and its Regulations in relation to corporate debts include:

  • the threshold amount of debt/s required for the service of a Creditor’s Statutory Demand has increased from $2,000 to $20,000; and
  • the recipient company’s time to pay or respond has increased from 21 days to 6 months.

Once a statutory demand expires without the debt being paid or an arrangement for the payment of the debt being agreed, the creditor can commence court proceedings to wind up the debtor company.

Director liability for insolvent trading

Similar changes have also been made to laws regarding director liability for insolvent trading where the debts are incurred in the ordinary course of business (temporarily supplementing existing “safe harbour“provisions).

The above changes do not affect other enforcement measures such as: winding up companies on the ‘just and equitable‘ ground; garnishee orders; or writs for the levy of property.

The Schedule 12 changes relate only to those Bankruptcy Notices issued in the relevant period and those Creditor’s Statutory Demands served in the relevant period, not those issued or served (as the case may be) prior to 24 March 2020.

(*Note on 07 September 2020, the Federal Government extended these measures until 31 December 2020).

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to debt recovery, bankruptcy, insolvency or any other commercial law matter, contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Uncollected goods: is possession 9/10 of the law?

If you are a business that cleans or repairs items that are never collected by a customer or if you are a lessor of a commercial property* and a tenant leaves items behind, you may wonder what your rights and obligations are in relation to those uncollected goods.

Is possession 9/10 of the law? Well, sort of. Often it can depend on the terms of trade agreed between the business and the customer (for example a retention of title clause, a lien** or other similar provisions), but assuming it hasn’t been agreed or if there are agreed terms but there is no unpaid account, what is the position?

If there is no contract to govern what happens then the Uncollected Goods Act 1995 (NSW) will likely apply. That Act allows the business holding the goods (bailee) to sell them if they are uncollected by the owner of the goods (bailor) or if the bailee can’t contact the bailor.

How the goods may be disposed of, and what notice needs to be given, depends on their type and value.  For example, if the goods are worth:

  • less than $100, the business owner needs to give the customer 28 days verbal or written notice of an intention to dispose of the goods. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect the goods in that time, the business owner can dispose of them they see fit;
  • more than $100 but less than $500, the business owner needs to give the customer and each other person that claims an interest in the goods 3 months written notice of an intention to dispose of them. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect them within 3 months, the business owner can dispose of them by private sale for ‘fair value’ or public auction;
  • more than $500 but less than $5,000 the business owner needs to give the customer and each other person that claims an interest in the goods 6 months written notice of an intention to dispose of the goods. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect them in the 6 month period, the business owner can dispose of them by public auction provided that the business owner publishes a copy of the notice in a daily newspaper circulating generally throughout NSW at least 28 days before the 6 months notice is to end;
  • more than $5,000, the business owner needs a Court order to dispose of the goods; and
  • Perishable goods are dealt with differently any only require a ‘reasonable’ amount of notice, the length of which depends on the nature and condition of the goods.

What should the notice state?

Broadly speaking, a notice regarding uncollected goods must include:

  • the business name;
  • a description of the goods;
  • an address where the goods can be collected;
  • a statement of any relevant charges (eg freight and storage costs) and if the business is planning to take money out of the sale to cover those charges;
  • a statement that on or after a specified date, the goods will be sold or kept unless they are first collected and the relevant charges are paid.

No profit

When the goods are sold, the bailee can only recover the cost of the original service being provided if unpaid, the costs of the sale and any maintenance, insurance and storage costs. The bailee is not allowed to make a profit on the sale of the uncollected goods.

Any surplus if the bailor can’t be found or won’t take it, must be paid, as unclaimed money, to Revenue NSW. What a pain!

* There is specific legislation relating to the disposal of goods held by a pawnbroker (Pawnbrokers and Second-Hand Dealers Act 1996 (NSW), Part 4, s.30), goods left by a tenant (Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW), Part 6 Division 2) or resident of a retirement village (Retirement Villages Act 1999 (NSW), Part 9, Division 7). Some assets can require additional steps to dispose of such as motor vehicles (for example the Commissioner of Police has issued a certificate stating that the vehicle is not recorded as stolen) and may require a Personal Property Securities Register Search.

** A lien is a common law right to retain possession of an item until an account is paid (such as a mechanics lien to keep a car until the repair bill is paid for), but it can be confirmed in an agreement.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to uncollected goods, your rights or obligations under a contract or arrangement or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Coronavirus: Commercial Tenancies Code

Further to our COVID-19 blogs on the Federal Government led arrangements on employee standdownsnegotiating changes to commercial leases and the JobKeeper subsidy, the National Cabinet on 07 April 2020 agreed on a mandatory Commercial Tenancy Code previously foreshadowed as part of the “hibernation” strategy for Australia’s economy.

“preserve the lease, to preserve the relationship, keeps the tenant in their property and keeps the tenant on the lease, which is also good the the landlord… which underpins the value of those assets

The Code applies to tenancies where either the Lessee/Tenant or the Lessor/Landlord is eligible for the JobKeeper program.

The Code is based on a set of leasing principals intended as the Prime Minister says to operate such that it “preserves the lease, preserves the relationship, keeps the tenant in their property and keeps the tenant on the lease, which is also good the the landlord… that underpins the value of those assets“.

The overarching obligations are for landlords and tenants to work together in an honest, open and transparent manner and to negotiate in good faith on a lease by lease basis so as to mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus on the lease arrangements.

The Leasing Principles themselves include:

  • Landlords must not terminate the lease due to non-payment of rent during the pandemic period*
  • Landlords must not draw on a Tenant’s security (bank guarantee, personal guarantee or cash bond etc) during the pandemic period
  • Tenants must honour the Lease
  • Landlords must reduce rent proportionate to the trading reduction in the Tenant’s business over the course of the pandemic period through a combination of:
    • waivers of rent (accounting for at least 50% of the rental reduction); and
    • deferrals of rent (spread over the remaining time on a Lease and for no less than 24 months)
  • No interest, fees or charged are to be imposed  on the rent waived or deferred
  • Rent increases (other than Retail Leases based on turnover) are frozen during the pandemic period
  • Any statutory or insurance charges passed on to the tenant are to reduced in the appropriate proportion
  • Tenants should have an opportunity to extend the Lease period  of the rent waiver/deferment period
  • A binding mediation process will regulate these co-operative arrangements.

*The pandemic period is from 03 April 2020 and for the period during which the for the period during which the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper program remains operational.

To view the Prime Minster’s statement following the National Cabinet meeting here.

The States and Territories will legislate these arrangements as soon as is possible.

Banks are urged to support landlords in a similar manner.

Residential tenancies remain a State and Territory issue, not being determined by the National Cabinet. To register your business’s interest in the JobKeeper system, visit the Australian Taxation Office’s dedicated page.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus or if you need to discuss how to best deal with commercial tenancy issues, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Coronavirus – Negotiating changes to commercial leases

Any businesses that are experiencing a downturn as a result of the current economic crisis that has come as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic will know that one of the largest expenses, apart from that of staff, is its leasing of premises. We have another article on options for employers including standing down its workforce.

The Government has introduced a range of measures to assist businesses and employees with the ongoing payment of wages with the JobKeeper program and the National Cabinet has agreed to implement a moratorium on the eviction of commercial and residential tenants for 6 months. This will be implemented by the States and Territories.

The Government has suggested that commercial leasing arrangements are a matter that ought to be discussed and agreed between lessors and lessees as it is a very complicated area of law that affects businesses from sole traders to multinational corporations. There are many advantages of having these discussions, rather than seeking to strictly enforce the terms of the previously agreed leases, including:

  • The lessor can retain the lessee in the premises – this will be important for them after the pandemic ends
  • The lessee will need to continue trading from the premises – either during the pandemic and/or after the restrictions on movement are relaxed.
  • The lessor may have mortgage repayment obligations to its bank and will need some level of cashflow to assist it to do this

Any  discussions between lessors and lessees should, in the first instance, be informal and without prejudice to the written lease obligations.

There is a moratorium on evictions, but there’s not a moratorium on the requirement to pay rents. Landlords/Lessors and tenants/lessees not significantly affected by COVID-19 are expected to honour their lease and rental agreements.

Every business and each premises is different so there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer but points for negotiation could include:

  • changing the amount of rent to be paid for a period (say a reduction in rent of 25% for 6 months)
  • a rent free period or a reduced rent period (for example 3 months of no rent payable)
  • a delay in payment of the rent (same rent is payable but the obligation to pay is deferred to a later time).
  • extension of the term of the lease to accommodate any rental concessions

Any agreement that may be reached should be documented in writing and signed, and it may be that the lease if registered will also need to have any changed also registered on title.

There may be situations where no negotiated solution will work and parties may need to rely on dispute resolution procedures either now or at the end of the moratorium period, noting that the moratorium does not relieve a lessee from the obligations under the Lease, just that they cannot have the lease terminated during the moratorium period.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus or if you need to discuss negotiating changes to commercial leases or licensing arrangements, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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COVID-19: McKillop Legal remains open for business

McKillop Legal remains open for business and is fully operational despite the significant and unprecedented challenges facing our families, the Australian economy and our way of life as a result of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

We remain open for business and available to provide advice either by telephone, email or other services (and, if necessary, in person, abiding by the Government’s social distancing guidelines).

Our staff all have the ability to work remotely from home or in other places using our secure technology infrastructure and systems.

If you or your business has any legal issue it requires assistance with, whether relating to your rights or responsibilities relating to business, shutdowns or employment in relation to the pandemic or in relation to other matters, please call or email us and we will be in touch promptly.

Take care.

Lost luggage? What are your rights?

For damaged or lost luggage, where your travel is wholly within Australia with no international sectors, airlines are liable to compensate you under the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act 1959 (Cth) (limited to a maximum of $1,600 for registered (checked) baggage and $160 for unchecked baggage).

For those travelling internationally, the rights of passengers for most airlines (carriers) are governed by the Montreal Convention, 1999 (Montreal Convention).

For the Montreal Convention to apply, both the country of departure and country of final destination must both be members. There are 136 countries that are parties.

The Warsaw Convention will generally apply where the Montreal Convention does not, but it is considered less favourable to passengers, especially when it comes to compensation and is based on a $/Kg calculation. This article assumes the Montreal Convention will apply.

Article 17 of the Montreal Convention provides:

“The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of destruction or loss of, or of damage to, checked baggage upon condition only that the event which caused the destruction, loss or damage took place on board the aircraft or during any period within which the checked baggage was in the charge of the carrier…”

Article 22 of the Montreal Convention states:

“In the carriage of baggage, the liability of the carrier in the case of destruction, loss, damage or delay is limited to 1,000* Special Drawing Rights for each passenger unless the passenger has made, at the time when the checked baggage was handed over to the carrier, a special declaration of interest in delivery at destination and has paid a supplementary sum if the case so requires. In that case the carrier will be liable to pay a sum not exceeding the declared sum, unless it proves that the sum is greater than the passenger’s actual interest in delivery at the destination.”

* adjusted to 1,131 SDR for inflation

So if you are travelling with something worth more than liability limit, you have the option to declare a higher value for your luggage and items when you check your bags at the airport. The carrier can provide you with a higher coverage amount for a fee (as per Article 22). The carrier will be liable to pay that higher amount unless it is proved that the declared amount is greater than the actual value of your baggage.

What is a Special Drawing Right?

A Special Drawing Right (SDR) is a fluctuating index based on a basket of international currencies as determined by the International Monetary Fund.

The current SDR rate is 1 SDR : AUD$2.01, so that entitles you to a maximum compensation of $2,273, but that is a maximum only – you will usually only get the replacement value.

If you keep every receipt you ever get, this is the time for you to shine as without receipts, it is difficult to get too much compensation!

What to do if your luggage is lost or damaged

If your luggage is damaged or does not arrive, ideally do not leave the airport. Rather, you should go to the baggage claim office at the destination airport and lodge a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) with the carrier that operated your final flight. Some carriers have time limits on reporting in their conditions of carriage (the terms you agree to when getting your ticket)

Most major airlines are relatively helpful when it comes to lost or damaged luggage, but even if they aren’t and you need to enforce your rights, note that Article 29 of the Montreal Convention provides:

“In … any action for damages … punitive, exemplary or any other non-compensatory damages shall not be recoverable.”

Travel insurance

If there is a shortfall between what the carrier pays you as compensation and what the item is worth, you can lodge a claim for the difference, subject of course to the terms of your travel cover, assuming you took it out.

For those that may not know, many credit card providers offer complimentary travel insurance if you pay an amount towards the costs of the trip on your card.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to any travel, contractual, business-related or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Can you just put a caveat on someone’s house?

If you are owed a substantial sum of money by someone, whether because you have loaned them funds or if you have a bill that hasn’t been paid, you would generally like to secure those funds. This way, if the borrower or debtor ends up being a bankrupt or insolvent, you may be in a better position as a secured creditor to those that are unsecured and hopefully you can get paid.

So how does security work? Security is effectively giving notice to the world that you have a claim on that person’s estate or assets so that subsequent people or businesses dealing with the same person are aware that you are to be paid in property, ie before them.

Security can be given in several ways, including:

  • handing over physical possession of certain assets;
  • the granting of  a Security Interest over assets registered on the Personal Property Securities Register (or “PPSR”); or
  • perhaps granting a Mortgage over real property owned by the person owing the money.

The registration of securities grants priority in order of registration, so it is important not to delay in registering any securities granted.

Ordinarily, you would have put in place a Loan Agreement or had Terms of Trade in place to govern your business relationship so that you have the express written consent to do such things to secure the debt, but if these documents are not in place before the financial obligation arises, people often take the step of lodging a caveat on title to property owned by the debtor.

A Caveat registered on title to a property has the effect (subject to the specific wording of the caveat of course) of preventing the owner or registered proprietor of that land from dealing with that land without the consent of the person who lodged the Caveat (the “caveator”). Dealings that can be prevented include lodging other Mortgages, lodging Transfers and the like.

Can you just put a caveat on someone’s house? If only things were that simple!

Many people have taken the step of lodging a Caveat on title to a debtor’s property only to have been unsuccessful in protecting their debt. Why? Well, in order to lodge a caveat (or even a Mortgage or PPSR Security Interest for that matter), you need to have the relevant asset “charged” in your favour with payment of the relevant debt. Creating a “charge” over an asset creates an interest in that asset that allows you to lodge a Caveat to notify and protect that interest.

A Caveat is not a document that gives you priority over previously registered interests, but it does give you some control over the asset such that you can prevent refinancing or a sale of an asset unless satisfactory arrangements for you to be paid have been made as part of that process  Properly drafted documents in relation to the lending of funds or business agreements where credit is extended should include things such as Mortgages, General Security Deeds or other things that create an interest in the asset sufficient to lodge a Mortgage, on title (to land), a Security Interest (on the PPSR in relation to assets etc) or at a minimum a Caveat over land.

Without such an interest being created, the caveator runs the risk that the owner can’t sell or refinance and suffers financially, then pursues the caveator for damages flowing from the caveator’s wrongful act, putting the caveator in an even worse position than they were before!

These things should not be done without proper advice, so take the time to review your current situation and documents now before a problem arises and have the documents updated to best protect you or your business.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to debt recovery, loan agreements, estate planning, any business-related matter or if you have a Caveat lodged on your property without your consent, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Do you have customers that owe you money?

WHAT OPTIONS ARE THERE TO CHASE DEBTS?

Where a customer has not complied with the terms on which goods or services have been provided, in that they have failed to make payment as and when required and despite repeated requests, it can often be of assistance for a demand letter to be sent by a lawyer.

The letter of demand will usually require payment in full by a defined time or may propose a payment plan with payment by instalments.

McKillop Legal is often called upon to advise in relation to debt recovery issues. We find that a strongly worded demand, clearly setting out the situation and seeking payment within a reasonable period usually results in payment.

There are various options available for business owners to recover moneys due.

If a letter of demand does not result in payment, there are various options available.

Where the debt is due by a company and the debt is more than $2,000 and it has not been disputed, a Creditor’s Statutory Demand can be issued under the Corporations Act giving the company 21 days to either pay the debt or to come to an arrangement to you for payment of the debt, failing which the company is presumed at law to be insolvent and can be wound up on application to the Supreme Court.

If an individual or partnership owes the debt, a company owes the debt and it is less than $2,000 or if a company debtor disputes the debt, then usually the commencement of proceedings will be necessary (and you would need to weigh up the costs and benefits of doing so to make a commercially sensible decision).

If the debt is over $5,000 and the debt is the subject of a judgment of a court, you can issue a Bankruptcy Notice. A Bankruptcy Notice provides for payment of the debt or a satisfactory arrangement for payment of the debt to be made within 21 days, failing which an “act of bankruptcy” has been committed, entitling you to commence proceedings in for a bankruptcy/sequestration order.

Options for enforcement of judgments also include:

  • Garnishee orders
  • Writ of Execution over property – where the Sheriff sells personal property, land etc
  • Instalment orders

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to business succession, estate planning, litigation and dispute resolution or any commercial law matter, contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au